Dal nostro corrispondente da Banja Luka (Republika Srpska, BiH) un'intervista con il direttore del "Centro per le Iniziative Civili", Igor Stojanovic. L'intervista offre alcuni spunti per una riflessione sul ruolo e l'impegno delle organizzazioni non governative in Bosnia-Ervegovina, rispondendo alle domande riguardanti il potere delle ONG nella costruzione della società civile, la visibilità delle ONG stesse, le difficoltà nell'accedere ai finanziamenti ed infine l'osservazione dei processi politici in atto nel paese. Testo in inglese.

07/12/2001 -  Anonymous User

What does the term non-governmental organization (NGO) mean?! A little unpopular and maybe even less known is the word " Third sector", a non- profit, non-political, citizen's organization. The term NGO should mean public conscience. People who work for NGO's are not always properly informed of the impact and significance of their work, and therefore may not work in the best possible manner. This is not done out bad intentions on the part of the worker, but rather because of lack of knowledge. It is important for NGO's to pay attention to this issue. The Center for Civil Initiatives (CCI) is a non-governmental, non-profit organization which acts from four offices in BIH: Mostar, Zenica, Sarajevo and Banjaluka. It is this BIH non-governmental organization, which promotes active civilian participation in democracy and elections. Apart from the foundation of democratic society, nothing is more important than the role of the actors in civil society. Representation is important in a free, democratic society, because the right to representation provides the opportunity to make important decisions for all people, including women and other groups, which are marginalized. CCI acts as a net of non-governmental organizations, which includes 12 regional coalitions, which total 254 NGO. We talked with the director of CCI development, Igor Stojanovic.

STOJANOVIC: Amateurs who have not found their place in the governing institutions, researchers for donators and easy money, the unemployed who have nothing to do, political exponents of certain parties and western centers of power-- those are, unfortunately, the most prevalent public opinions, including that of journalists, in RS or in BIH, as to the reason for the existence of NGO's in BIH. Some NGO's would be in a better position if they were recognized for the care and aid they offer everyday to the most needy citizens. The third sector is valuable only when it is for humanitarian purposes. The building of civil society is still under the patronage of OHR, OSCE and a few domestic politicians; rarely an NGO.

S.R.: Why in BIH, like in Croatia or Serbia, does the non-governmental sector not have that power to control the elections and affect the results, develop civil society, or overthrow autocratic leaders, who are often present in this country?

STOJANOVIC: Because this is after war. The country is sad and mourns for the non-governmental organizations which would explain to people what the political and economic centers wanted to hide, and which ones would influence the building of democratic governing institutions. The answers can vary from talks that Bosnia is intellectually behind its environment, to the proved fact that nationalism and war destroyed not just economic base, but also its civilian part. The items, which weren't supposed to be said in public- that our neighbors were given huge donations for the development of civil society and democratization by the third sector. Therefore, the money provided for BIH ended up in the OSCE budget, and temporary donations helped the NGO to exist. Instead of BIH citizens, the International Union took over the money and the responsibility for the development of civil society. The results are well known- advantage exists, but that is how it is. No one, apart from a few international organs, is and should be satisfied.

S.R.: You say that BIH mourns for NGO's, but it is well known that a few hundred NGO's were registered in Banja luka alone.

STOJANOVIC: Non-governmental organizations arose during the war thanks to help from the outside. Today, when the help is smaller, all that remains is the search for own identity, vision and goals, and the way to achieve those goals. Or to say it in easier way- survival on the market, no matter if someone understands how to do it or what it means. Yes, a few hundred NGO's exist in Banjaluka today. That number was established thanks to the financial support of West European countries and the USA. The intention was to alleviate the process of establishing civil society. After five years of distance, the results that non-governmental sector produced are everything, but satisfying. People should be "taught to think alternatively".

S.R.: According to the information of "IKVA" during the year 2000, in the area of Banjaluka 20 NGO's were registered whose aim was to provide legal help (property rights, working lawsuits and status questions). Following that information we discovered that 70 % of them did not even have the residences they used as their addresses, and the phone numbers they left were those of neighbors and family. How do you explain this?

STOJANOVIC: The ones who act, mainly do it for themselves and financial profit, which was provided by or is still provided by donators. A lot of people in the non-governmental sector saw the possibility of private promotion and good profit, because a good sum of money could be taken from the "projects". There were no government opinions, especially not of the measure needed to change the attitude towards the third sector. The explanation was the fact that maybe NGO's presented an elitist way of thinking, to which the government wanted to act as an opposition, instead of intervening as a factor whose attitudes were necessary to listen to and accept. This statement was strengthened by numerous round table discussions, especially with popular subjects related to return of refugees, human rights, and tolerance. Of the gatherings like this, organized by NGO's, the leading one was the "Citizen's forum" in Banja Luka, where 30 to 40 sympathizers were gathered without any representatives of government. The messages and conclusions were only dead letters on paper, and life continued.

S.R.: As the representatives of the NGO's claim, mediums are not interested in their activities because they do not call wide public attention to themselves. What is your opinion?

STOJANOVIC: Mediums and educational institutions, which through their programs do not popularize civil society and democracy, are, without a doubt, responsible. With rare exception do the NGO's promote themselves as the ameliorators of society. Otherwise, how do we explain the fact that during a public hearing only a few NGO's directly commented on a series of laws, which are of interest to all citizens in RS? Another reason for this is NGO disunity. They do not work together, but rather they are racing for a bigger piece of the donator's cake.

S.R.: You represent a relatively young organization, and if I take into consideration that you are non-profit, how do you finance your organization?

STOJANOVIC: Our organization started to work at the beginning of 1999. We are financed, as most other NGO's, by projects from international foundations. For now, that is the only way of financing, because we do not have the financial conditions, like other countries with a developed democracy. In these countries, NGO's are financed by citizens, some companies or even directly from the budget. On the contrary, where we live, tax laws do not provide any public benefit. I would not like to discuss this problem any further, but I can only tell you that in our society this problem borders with scientific fantasy. The relationship between public institutions and us is more comical. Really, there is no relationship and nothing has happened. People do not understand that they have to cooperate with NGO's, which would be the citizen's tools.

S.R.: Can you give us a concrete figure as to the amount of the donations?

STOJANOVIC: Although it is public information and accessible to anyone interested, I would not be able to answer that question. The sector, which is responsible for finances, can give you that information. I'm only director of development, and I couldn't give you precise data.

S.R.: Observing the elections was the last big project realized by your organization. Can they really be observed taking the sources of financing into consideration?

STOJANOVIC: In our country this is an important issue. It is something that has been falling into a dark zone, because it is defined by law. Nobody was for or against that. You did not, as a common citizen, have any chance to supervise the trial election. You would have had to become a member of some political party in order to observe the elections. I did not want to. I want, as a common and apolitically minded citizen, to participate in that trial. It doesn't happen! How can it happen? Only through NGO's. It's very important to emphasize that the trial election is not only a matter of the political party but of the citizens, because their fates are decided in the elections. Independence, however, is monitored in a way, because you are dependent on the one who pays you. It is important to understand that trial better in the scope of the NGO, so that we do not understand this as a single case. You devise a project about the work that you want to do, in what amount of time, and how much it would cost. That project is delivered to a possible donator. If the donator estimates that the project is important, useful, and realistic with respect to time and finances, he could approve a means to execute the whole project or just one part of it. In that way, a donator supports and finances your project and you. The truth is that the money comes, mostly, from private foundations, which have a mission to support specific fields. The question of financing on the side of the international organizations is really a question of trust. It is not easy to get donator support. The organization must maintain a positive image among other donors. They finance your project by trust and there is the chance that you can cheat them. But you can do it only once.

R.S: Do the people from the activate NGO's have a tendency to emphasize their successes?

STOJANOVIC: Success is a normal fact. The problem is if the results fit expectations and real possibilities. The CCI mission is to stir up and increase the turnout of citizens in democratic processes. This is accomplished by three kinds of activities: raising the public consciousness, development of local support and the development of coalition support. We cannot solve the pension problem in BiH, but we can try to find a solution in which citizens can see the improvement of the infrastructure, through measures to protect the environment or by the construction of a section of a highway. The citizens have to know that the power is here because of them, and not the citizens because of the power. We are not interested in election results. We are interested in regular way of conducting elections.

A recent questionnaire by the RTRS (Radio television the Republic of Srpska) on the question, "what are NGO's?" shows what the non-governmental sector means for the public. Of those polled in Banja Luka, Bijeljina, Trebinje, and Serbs Sarajevo between the ages of 20 and 60, hardly any of them had a picture of what NGO's are and what their reason for being there is. The answer in 80 % of the cases was exactly? I don't know, but some of the citizens said that the NGO's were pretending to be humanitarians were Soros agents and Foreign hirelings.